A potato farmer who was kicked off coastal farmland he had rented from the States for over a decade is making an emergency appeal to halt a potential ‘secret’ sale to a developer or high-value resident, arguing that it should be kept for agriculture or made into a park.
Colin De La Haye (pictured) was given notice around 18 months ago that he would have to leave the St. Catherine’s Bay strip where he grew potatoes and daffodils, known colloquially as the Pine Walk, because the States intended to sell it. Tenders are due by midday today.
He alleges that “no proper reason” was provided as to why, leading to concerns that it could be handed to nearby high-value residents. Jersey Property Holdings – the States entity responsible for looking after public assets – argued, however, that it was because his £2,000 annual rent didn’t cover the cost of maintaining and administering the land, which forms part of the Coastal National Park.
But Mr De La Haye speculated whether this was the real reason, arguing that these costs would be minimal. “In the last 10 years, they’ve done nothing except produce the lease every three years and produce the receipt for rent. We do all the hedges – they’ve done nothing. Maybe a bit of tree work in the first two years, but the last 10 years they haven’t touched the land. I don’t know how that can cost £2,000 a year to do nothing,” he told Express.
Offers are due by noon today on the sea-facing 11 vergee plot along La Route de la Cote, which has been valued from around £70,000 to £100,0000. “What difference is £100,000 going to make to the States? Let’s be honest, it’s going to pay a couple of civil servants for a few weeks. It’s not going to make any real difference,” Mr De La Haye questioned.
Pictured: The St. Martin strip of farmland is very close to St. Catherine's Bay. (Google Maps)
That sales process has been done with no Infrastructure Minister in place, leading to fears that the new Minister to be elected today will be placed in a ‘gun to head’ scenario where they feel obliged to rubber stamp a sale. He also raised concerns that the decision to sell the land wasn’t made clearer to the Public, its owner.
“I don’t like the timing of this. We’ll have a new Minister, he’ll know nothing about it, this [contract] will be produced, and he’ll sign it off innocently not knowing what it’s about, and it will be gone. No one will know anything about it,” Mr De La Haye warned.
Mr De La Haye, who says he has no personal interest in stopping a sale as he is leaving farming, wants to see the land kept for public enjoyment, perhaps as a national park. That way, the land could still be used to benefit the nearby RNLI, who sometimes use the field as part of their open days.
He also sees no reason why the land can’t be retained for growing. “It’s a very early productive land, sheltered from winds be trees, and because it’s by the sea it’s nice soil and it’s got no stones in. Supermarket quality standards are so strict, and stones can damage the crop.
“There’s been a lot of agriculatural land going out of production to 11ks [high-value-residents, ed.]. In St. Martin’s alone, there’s a massive area that’s been taken out of production… It’s actually quite a big chunk of land to lose. That amount is actually 8% of my export area. Tell the civil servants or the politicians to take an 8% pay cut, and I don’t think they’d be very happy.”
Pictured: The National Trust wrote to States Members to support their offer for the three fields.
That view was supported by the Jersey Farmer’s Union, whose President, Peter Le Maistre, told Express that the “whole sale makes no sense.”
“The states own a piece of good agricultural which is let for a decent rental amount. The land is in the National Coastal Park, surely the States would wish to keep any land they own in this important zone? I believe the new Minister should stop the sale and keep this in public ownership. I know that there are growers who would like to farm this land.”
But help could be at hand – the National Trust have put in a bid. Yesterday, they wrote to States Members to ask for their support in securing a purchase they believed to be “in the best interests of our island” because the public benefit “lies at the very heart of [the trust’s] raison d’etre.”
While Grouville Deputy Carolyn Labey was supportive of the land being kept for public benefit, she branded it “ridiculous” that States Members were being asked to approve a sale of such “valuable” public land, adding that it would be a “waste of time and process” if the new Infrastructure Minister makes the “rightful decision not to sell Coastal National Park land.”
So when is it acceptable to kick a farmer off leased land owned by the States - in the National Park zone - in order to sell it off? An outrageous decision. Property Holdings selling the family silver? New Minister be warned, this is on my radar.— Carolyn Labey (@CarolynLabey) June 6, 2018
She promised to grill those standing for the position on the matter in the States Assembly this morning.
New Chief Minister John Le Fondré has suggested Deputy Kevin Lewis, who previously held the role when the department was known as Transport and Technical Services, but this is being challenged by Senator Steve Pallett.
Responding to questions by Express, DfI officials assured that, whatever the outcome for the land, any development will be in line with the Island Plan and Planning policy. They added that some conditions would also be imposed on any contract to control work on the surrounding trees.
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